Mental health toolkits made for kids, by kids will be available for free at DCPS full service school

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Parents, has your teen expressed some struggles related to the pandemic? Well, they are not alone - and there are teens in Jacksonville who want to help.

A new Oxford Press University study shows one in five students selected “anxiety” as their word of the year for 2021, a result stemming from school lockdowns and concerns around coronavirus.

Whether it’s isolation or frustration affecting your child, maybe a combination of the two, there’s a group of teens out there who can relate all-too-well - and they want to offer their support.

They’re part of the I Am A Star Foundation which champions “Smart, Talented and Resilient Students.” The organization is putting together 1,000 toolkits for kids or parents to pick up for free at full-service Duval County Public Schools.

They include a beanie boo stuffed animal (which students can also switch out with a fidget spinner), a jar with words of affirmation, and a journal, which has a list of resources they can access if they’re struggling.

Most importantly, this toolkit serves as a reminder that these teens care.15-year-old Kennadi Larkins is behind the idea for the toolkits, and through the I Am A Star Foundation, she’s been helping bring awareness to youth mental health issues. “

We’ve had to deal with a lot of deaths in our families and friends and not being able to see our friends,” she said. When she felt some adults were downplaying these struggles, she stepped in.”Mainly, we had a lot of people saying that we were asking for attention,” Larkins pointed out.

With other teens, she helped create these toolkits. ”The adults had nothing to do with what went into the boxes,” said Betty Burney, the founder and executive director, I Am A Star Foundation. She wanted to encourage kids to find help if they need it.

One reached this 17-year-old girl who didn’t want her story to be judged based on her identity. “It really felt, I was losing my mind,” she described having to cope with isolation. “I had to learn to be by myself.” In isolation, she found solace in her writing. “When I write poetry, it’s about what I’m going through,” she said.

With her own words and the words of teens like her written on small slips of paper inside the toolkit, she feels empowered. ”Especially with the affirmations, it gives you that extra little like, I got this,” she added.

This group wants others out there to know they are never going through anything alone.

These kits are funded by COVID relief fund money provided to I Am A Star Foundation. The group will begin distributing them by the end of the month, and it’s part of a series called EmpowerMe, which you can learn more about here: https://www.imastarfoundation.org/.